The Story

Three are two types of sacrifices: correct ones, and mine.
                                                                             - Mikhail Tal

Have you ever heard about Mikhail Tal? He was, and still is one of the best chess players in the World. He is famous (or perhaps infamous) for his creative ideas and attacks. His games were so consuming that “The Mammoth Book of the World's Greatest Chess Games” is mostly filled by his masterpieces. Widely renowned as The Magician from Riga, he had a very peculiar way of sacrificing his seemingly valuable pieces and yet, in defiance of conventional wisdom, clinching the victory.

While the cloak of this magician lies heavy over the history of chess. Yet, there exist the likes of games that stand out. One such game is known as The American Beauty: played between Stefan Levitsky and Frank Marshall. Won by the later of the duo, Frank Marshall, himself a formidable opponent, known for his tactical skills and inventor of the dangerous line of Marshall Attack in the Ruy Lopez Opening. Marshall was a tactician, a playstyle that doesn't give much space for games like “The American Beauty”, games which attracted immense popularity. The game unfolds in a way that transposes into French Defence. Indeed, at first glance, one might even consider it to be a standard game, but Marshall continually using his wits and tactics to manipulate the opponent to his will managed to create a masterpiece like no other. In the lead since the early game Marshall managed to steer the middle game towards its magnificent conclusion where with a final offer of sacrificing his own queen, Marshall cemented his victory. It is believed that the move triggered a shower of gold coins by the audience. This magnificent game was later title to be The American Beauty.

 Marshall has the Black pieces and has to sacrificed his queen in the given position. Find out the winning sequence for Black.


Coming back to Tal, he was a great attacker and probably the master of sacrifice. The quote “Don’t play the odds, play the man” applies to his games. Sacrificing a pawn is a child’s play, suited to children, but the legendary Tal would sacrifice his Queen and use his Magic Wand to win the game. His moves had the magic of bending the board to his will lending him a streak of 95 undefeated games. While Marshall, the American Champion, was indeed, a great player but he lacked the grace and fluidity of Tal. They both were great minds, again grandmasters at their sports, having great achievements under their name. Tal’s gameplay and tactics needed guts and confidence to play and analyze every possible move. At times it is difficult. Gary Kasparov, the greatest chess player describes how he is different. While any other player might calculate the next moves but Tal would simply see the next nine moves for every possibility. He was also not known to stress over lost games, so long as they were interesting enough. Tal was a wayward and carefree person, he played bold moves which sometimes frustrated other players. To think of it, in a way, he played chess wrong. While Marshall, who was a tactical person with had strong moves and calculated opening which led him to the victory. Whatever he did, he played like a gentleman. Tal, on the other hand, was totally different. Yet, they both were great chess players.

The differences in the sacrifices of both of these players are plenty. Tal was an illusionist, he used to play such tricks in many games while Marshall didn’t. Tal would spring a surprise upon surprise on the unsuspecting opponent. His sudden moves resulting in a sacrifice which was generally followed by another one. While Marshall sacrificed his queen in a winning situation, which made his endgame a memorable one. Tal would build-up for the sacrifice and create an illusion of losing his piece and thus creating magic. While Marshall would see it like any other line of action.

They had been so different in their approach, yet they were successful. It is difficult to choose a better player between Tal or Marshall. Often people encounter trade-offs, sometimes, which may lead us to sacrifice something which we deem essential. It might be a forced sacrifice, which might pave the way to a bad game or it could be an illusional sacrifice. Yet there are ways of Tal, Marshall, or even Kasparov, which happen in different ways and in different conditions. Their ways show the ambiguity of chess moves and the intents which often result in such beautiful games in a place far diverted from the conventional chess theory.